Less controversial than reports would lead you to believe, “Zero Dark Thirty” is, nevertheless, a gripping film that as the movie nears its conclusion, will have you on the edge of your seat, even if the outcome is known.
Beginning with one of those heart-breaking phone calls made September 11, 2001, “Zero Dark Thirty” then moves on to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the horrific day’s master-mind. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty” is derived from that real-life hunt and takes you behind the scenes into how that search and killing came to be.
Jessica Chastain plays Maya, based on the actual CIA officer who spent a decade—at the time her entire career—searching for Bin Laden. We meet her as she lands in Pakistan and accompanies fellow CIA operative Dan (Jason Clarke) as he begins another day of interrogating Ammar, a prisoner with alleged ties to Saudi terrorists. Eventually Ammar provides them with a tidbit which brings the hunt into focus. After many years, unbelievable focus and determination and, yes, some brilliance and luck, Maya believes she finally is able to pinpoint Bin Laden’s whereabouts. In fact, “Zero Dark Thirty’s ” suspense quotient kicks into high gear when the CIA operatives follow the courier they think will lead them to Bin Laden and then the actual raid.
Much of the film is pretty slow; let’s face it…watching someone stare at a computer screen isn’t all that compelling. But “Zero Dark Thirty” does a very good job in showing us the painstaking work the intelligence community performs and how long it takes for decisions to be made and acted upon. Perhaps surprisingly, some of the most interesting and memorable scenes take place in CIA headquarters in Langley,VA, as Maya interacts with some of her CIA superiors.
Jessica Chastain is very good as the dedicated operative who seems to carry the whole operation on her shoulders. She beautifully captures the look and feel of someone who has no life other than her job. Jason Clarke is terrific as her colleague and friend. He seems to move effortlessly from villainous interrogator to best friend—the film picks up every time he’s on screen.
“Zero Dark Thirty” has a great supporting cast. Singled out for mention among many good performances are James Gandolfini as the unnamed CIA Chief, Leon Panetta; a fabulous Marc Strong portraying the CIA officer who comes to Pakistan with perhaps one of the best motivational lines spoken since “Win one for the Gipper,” screaming “Bring me people to kill,” and finally, Jennifer Ehle, as Maya’s embassy colleague, Jessica, who has a powerful turn as the veteran operative.
Like the superior “Argo” (at least to me), “Zero Dark Thirty,” is at is best when it shows us the heroism and dedication to country of the federal workers that most of us never think about. That alone makes “Zero Dark Thirty” worthy of our attention.